The former chief editorial writer of the New York Times, John Swinton, reportedly had this to say at a banquet held in his honor in 1880, nearing the end of his career:
There is no such thing, at this date of the world's history, in America, as an independent press. You know it and I know it.
There is not one of you who dares to write your honest opinions, and if you did, you know beforehand that it would never appear in print. I am paid weekly for keeping my honest opinion out of the paper I am connected with. Others of you are paid similar salaries for similar things, and any of you who would be so foolish as to write honest opinions would be out on the streets looking for another job. If I allowed my honest opinions to appear in one issue of my paper, before twenty-four hours my occupation would be gone.
The business of the journalists is to destroy the truth, to lie outright, to pervert, to vilify, to fawn at the feet of mammon, and to sell his country and his race for his daily bread. You know it and I know it, and what folly is this toasting an independent press?
We are the tools and vassals of rich men behind the scenes. We are the jumping jacks, they pull the strings and we dance. Our talents, our possibilities and our lives are all the property of other men. We are intellectual prostitutes.
Sometimes, some people wonder why there is so much inane news about various random celebrities being constantly reported on the air. Some would argue that is what the viewing audience wants to see - that the media is only giving The People what they want. If the viewing audience didn't like this kind of gossip, then there wouldn't be enough ratings to sustain shows like these.
I wonder what I would do if I worked for the news department and three stories came across my desk:
1) A boring story about a celebrity.
2) An exciting story about a celebrity.
3) An exciting, but dangerous story that could cost me my job.
Which would I choose? If I considered myself a person of integrity, would I choose to focus on #3? Obviously if I were just worried about my career or mortgage payments, #2 would be the one audiences see that night.
What if I had kids in college? Would the right thing to do be to ensure they get the education they need and bury story #3? What if running story #3 would cost me my job now, which would mean I wouldn't be around to ensure even more important things get reported on? If that were my rationale, then I may choose #2 over #3 after all, and bide my time until I'm truly needed.
Of course, with rationalizations like that, I may just spend my entire career reporting only on "exciting celebrity news" - never once daring to venture into uncharted territory.